Skip to content

Chapter 1

About dyscalculia, low numeracy and maths anxiety

Last updated on

#Living with dyscalculia 

Dyscalculia is a specific and persistent difficulty in understanding numbers.

It makes reading, understanding, and working with numbers hard. It impacts the ability to handle money, like counting change, telling and managing time, estimating how long things take, understanding percentages, and remembering number facts.

Dyscalculia also affects someone’s working memory. It impacts everyday things like remembering items on a shopping list, following instructions, phone numbers, PINs or game scores.

It means people miss trains, withdraw the wrong amount of money from cash machines, get locked out of their accounts, and sign contracts they don’t understand.  

If diagnosed early enough, younger people can be supported with interventions that break maths down into manageable chunks, using different ways of learning.

But for adults who have gone undiagnosed, many have learned over time to cope, avoid situations or just live with the limitations of not understanding numbers and the impact that has on everyday life.

#Low numeracy skills and maths anxiety 

Low numeracy affects half of the working-age adults in the UK. That’s nearly 17 million people. 1 in 5 people say they would avoid jobs that involve frequent use of numbers.

Low numeracy makes it harder and more stressful to manage money. For example, a Financial Conduct Authority 2020 survey found that those that had fallen into debt felt it might have been avoided if they had understood their options better.

Maths anxiety or a fear of maths is common in children and adults. 4 out of 5 adults have low functional maths skills. And most people will experience maths anxiety at some point

Maths anxiety might make you feel worried or stressed. You might get physical symptoms like feeling hot or flustered with a racing heartbeat. 

Low numeracy and maths anxiety is not linked to ability or intelligence but can affect confidence and make people uncomfortable during maths exams and tests.  

#Why your service should present numbers clearly

We need to deliver services which show numbers plainly and in a way that is easy for everyone to understand. 

But unlike plain English, there is little guidance on presenting numbers and data. 

Some concepts we work with are complicated, like banking, utilities, pensions, tax, and interest rates. These all require some ability to perform calculations and understand percentages.

There are simple ways we can design to help people make better sense of numbers. And this is vital. It could mean the difference between people using a service to access the support they need or not.

Research published by Plain Numbers, found that making small changes to how bills and statements are presented doubled the number of customers who understood them. 

We can:

There is no alternative to some services, so we must make numbers accessible to everyone.

#Supporting people with dyscalculia at work 

You might work with someone who struggles with numbers. Dyscalculia is underdiagnosed compared to dyslexia, yet it’s nearly as common.

You can help support people with dyscalculia at work by:

  • avoiding meeting placeholders

  • cancelling meetings way in advance 

  • asking before booking meetings and avoiding last minute meetings

  • being patient with multi-step processes and not expecting immediacy

  • not interrupting someone's flow of conversation while working 

  • not shaming people for being late to meetings or work events

  • allowing time for reflection and note taking during calls and meetings